To examine Bamboo’s story so far is to take a microscopic view of the local music scene. It all starts with a dream. Taking inspiration from all the demigods that sang to them from their crabby speakers, spewing wisdom and good vibes out of worn out cassettes long before an apple gave birth to a pod, they pick up an instrument, string up some riffs, weave some melodies, sing a few songs. Before they knew it, they had sold their soul to the music, and the mistress exacts a high price. The goal-first, an album; a single on radio; do some gigs; then dream of playing the foreign shores. The cycle should grow exponentially, in theory. Yet as the proverb goes, many are called but only a few (and fewer still) are chosen.
Bamboo’s story is one that many admire and aspire to duplicate, yet would never fully admit. It started with a simple phone call. Bamboo Mañalac, who at that time had been living and studying in the U.S., made a call to an old friend back home who, he learned, had quit the band he had once fronted. Nathan Azarcon, in fact, had been out doing his own thing for almost a year already, and had been playing with bands like Kapatid and Makatha.
“At some point in the conversation, I asked him, what do you think of me going back there,” Bamboo recalls.
Mincing no words, Nathan bluntly tells his former band mate, “Things are tough here right now. It’s not as easy as you think. The music scene isn’t up to what you remember before.”
But once their conversation turned to music, it was like old times. “The funny thing, even when we were miles apart, we were still pretty much listening to the same thing,” says Bamboo. And the devil inside stirred once again.
Nathan then tapped Kapatid band mate, guitarist Ira Cruz, and drummer Vic Mercado. Both had played in Passage before, and by then had been gigging as the rhythm section for Makatha with Nathan. As soon as Bamboo got back to Manila, he went to see Makatha in the now-defunct Sanctum bar in Intramuros; the following day, only they bore witness to the makings of a new band, highlighted by a pivotal jam session in a small studio in the house of Ira’s dad, the latter himself a pillar of Pinoy music as the sax player of the band Anak Bayan. “From that first jam, we knew it was something special… saan-saan na pumupunta ‘yung mga kanta,” Bamboo remembers. CUT MY HEART OUT FOR A SOUVENIR
In the meantime, the band that would later be called Bamboo (“It sort of just came about, after months of figuring out a name,” the vocalist admits) played small clubs and, as Ira recalls, would sometimes do it for free beer, the company and a chance to play. By the first quarter of 2003, however, they had begun seriously working on their first album.
The band had written songs and soon had three to shop around to record labels-“Pride and the Flame,” “Take Me Down,” and “Noy-pi.” The reaction they got was less than enthusiastic, given the shaky financial grounds on which the industry stood. Some said their songs were “nice, but there’s no hook.” Others wanted to strip them of control and pick the singles for them. But the band was resolute. As Ira puts it, “By hook or by crook, we knew we were putting our album out.”
Taking matters into their own hands, they approach veteran producer Angee Rozul and, wrangling studio time from him owing to the fact that he listened to the material and liked it, they went to work.
“Naalala ko lang, that time I kept saying over and over again, may butas (sa eksena) eh,” Bamboo avers. “We could fill in the gap, whatever that was.”
And it was indeed filled in more ways than one.
BETTER DAYS AHEAD
Fast forward to when they had finally inked a three-year, three-album deal with EMI Music Philippines. “Noy-pi” signaled the arrival of Bamboo as a musical force the likes of which was both admired and resented. To those who think they hit it too big, too fast, or those who say they were not really the Pinoy rock n’ roll Messiahs they never really claimed to be, they pegged Bamboo as the capitalist dream set to a pseudo-earnest soundtrack. Others, still, were waiting for local music’s prodigal son, Bamboo, to simply fail. But what some failed to see was the fact that you could never really choose success, it chose you. Besides, thousands of people could not all be wrong.
Powered by the strength of the carrier single, “Noy-pi,” the band’s debut As the Music Plays, released in Feb/Mar 2004, was a success; it later spawned other hit singles in the power chord-driven “Mr. Clay,” the slow-burning “Masaya,” and the radio single-only, groove-infested “These Days.” By December of the same year, they had released a repackaged AVCD version that included their music videos and a bonus cut-the re-recorded version of “Masaya” featuring Ria Osorio on piano. They had also won a slew of music awards, not the least of which were MTV Pilipinas’ Best New Artist and Song of the Year for “Noy-pi”-punctuated, of course, by their performance at the awards show.
By June 2005, Bamboo had delivered a second album, much to the delight of fans and the people ready to rip it apart. According to the band, Light, Peace, Love was, “sort of a response to the success of the first album. The first one was like gangbusters, eh. All of a sudden, boom! Life changed. We got busy, things got crazy. It was a roller coaster ride for us… personally and professionally. So the second album was like a diary. It was more of a personal album for us,” Bamboo points out.
From talking about the passing of a friend to their response to critics, a thank you to fans, and everything else that happened in 2004, Light, Peace, Love produced a whopping five hit singles: the anthemic “Hallelujah,” the defiant “F.U.,” the emotive “Much Has Been Said,” the stirring “Truth” and the cool “Peace, Man.” By then it was undeniable that Bamboo, the band, had become the true marriage of commercial viability and staunch band principles. In as much as they had earned the status of a formidable concert drawer and commercial endorser, there were still lines that they never crossed. They still worked with the same people-the ones they deemed as family, those they had come to trust over the years. They still refused to sign off their songs to lucrative deals when it meant defying its soul. They declined corporate contracts when they didn’t feel right. And none of them, thankfully, had become movie stars.
GLIMPSE OF THE WILD WORLD
At the midpoint of the second album, EMI International announced they wanted to release their album in South East Asia. Light, Peace, Love was then repackaged, its Tagalog songs replaced with three English cuts from the first album-namely “Mr.Clay,” “As the Music Plays the Band” and “War of Hearts and Minds”-and sent off to Malaysia and Indonesia through the label’s affiliates. “Truth” was handpicked as the international single. It was in Indonesia, however, where the album was officially released where the band stayed for a week of promotional activities.
As if they are not busy enough, the band finally releases the long-awaited third album. Described by the singer as the last part of a trilogy, it is an all-covers album featuring more obscure Pinoy folk/rock gems and foreign classics. Bamboo points out, “When we started with the first album, we already planned to do something like this. We just weren’t sure when. So the idea of this album is that it’s sort of a footnote.” In more ways than, it was the continuation of what they had started when they recorded versions of The Doors’ “Break On Through,” Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” and “The General” by Dispatch in the repackaged As the Music Plays.
From the carrier single, “Tatsulok” (originally by Buklod), and Anak Bayan’s “Probinsyana” to Paul Simon and Carole King, the band admits that this is their hardest project to date. “Kasi ‘yung pinili naming mga kanta, magaganda na on its own. So siyempre kung iko-cover namin, kailangan naming lagyan ng stamp namin, nang sound namin. Kasi kung kokopyahin lang namin nang ganun-ganun lang, what for? (The song’s we chose were masterpiece’s in their own right. If we were to copy these songs note for note then what for? We had to put our own stamp and sound to the material.) For us, it has to sound different but really good. It has to stand up to the original,” Ira elaborates.
With the spate of covers and tribute albums of late, this move would certainly earn more criticisms than plaudits given the jaded state of the industry, but the band is undaunted. “If we did fluff or if we did crap, I’d be worried. But these songs can stand on their own. I’m pretty confident. I mean, we are our own harshest critics, believe me.”
if you think Bamboo is ready to just leave it at that, think again.
“We are already looking forward to writing original material,” Bamboo comments. “We can’t wait to hear what the new songs would sound like.” The fans feel the same way, for sure. But for now, We Stand Alone Together.
“The idea of the hand print came from a scene in Band of Brothers,” Bamboo shares in parting, looking back at the previous two albums and how it ties to this new one. Currahee, the mountain there, means ‘We stand alone together.’ So, it’s sort of symbolic of what we’ve sort of gone through these past four years. And then there’s the believers-our fans or whatever you want to call them. It’s not about us, it’s about the bigger picture.”
Music forges connections where there are physically none, making friends of total strangers, sharing experiences through song. That’s the bigger picture. And as any true music fan would know, music may choose you, but it is your openness that allows for a world of possibilities that keeps emotions stirred and imagination alive